Women Militants in the English Civil War

David Weigall describes a period when women emerged in politics as lively petitioners.

During the Civil War, said Clarendon, who lamented its moral ill-effects on the structure of the family, ‘the young women conversed without any circumspection or modesty.’ At this time women were beginning to discuss such topics as their lack of education, divorce and polygamy with an unwonted openness.

Tracts like The Womens Sharpe Revenge and The Ladies Champion are early contributions to the corpus of feminist literature. Equally significant was the fact that for the first time in English history they were publicly and in numbers claiming the rights of political petition and debate.

Women had always - particularly since the Reformation - been a major source of strength to religious minorities. In many Anabaptist communities they had long had an equal standing with men, and in the London Independent congregations they were allowed to debate and vote - so much so that the vitriolic Prynne observed that this was simply to expand the membership of those congregations.

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